நெஞ்சைத் தொட்டு நெகிழ வைத்தவை....
அண்மையில் டைம்ஸ் ஆப் இந்தியாவின் சில வருடங்களுக்கு முந்தைய பதிப்புகளைப் புரட்டிக் கொண்டிருந்த போது வாசித்தது.. படித்ததும் மனம் கனத்தது....
மனித நேயம் இந்த மரத்துப்போன இதயங்களுக்கு என்ன பதில் சொல்லப் போகின்றது?????
Four women India forgot
A number of sexual assault cases have recently seen quick trials, thanks to fast-track courts. But for every such handful, there are thousands which lie buried in dusty files. A new law is in the works but it may come too late for those forgotten few who are still waiting for justice. Saira Kurup reports.
Raped September 22, 1992
She may be a Dalit, hailing from a poor, potter's family, but in the last decade, Bhanwari Devi has become a torchbearer for the women's movement in the country.
Though everyone remembers the name, few know that even 14 years after she was gangraped by upper-caste villagers for attempting to stop a child marriage in her village, Bhateri, about 45 km from Jaipur, this "icon" still hasn't got justice.
In 1992, as a sathin working for the women's development programme of the Rajasthan government, 41-year-old Bhanwari tried to persuade a Gujjar family not to get their one-year- old daughter married. The police, too, stepped in and prevented the marriage.
However, the child marriage took place the next day any way, and after that the village ordered a socio-economic boycott of Bhanwari's family, holding her responsible for the police intervention.
She was even asked to leave the village, but she refused. On September 22, 1992, five upper-caste men raped Bhanwari in the presence of her husband. The rape was widely seen as a punishment for her defiance and because she had challenged accepted cultural norms.
The police initially refused to record her statement. Past midnight that day, they asked her to leave her skirt behind as evidence and return to her village. She did, wearing her husband's dhoti. For her medical examination, she went to Jaipur, but there too, the medical report did not confirm rape, only her age.
Initial police investigations held her rape allegations as false they said she was too old and unattractive to be raped by young men. But pressure from women's groups and civil rights organisations forced the government to ask for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which found all the allegations made by Bhanwari to be true.
The trial began in 1994. In the meanwhile, there were constant threats as well as pressure on her to withdraw the case. On November 15, 1995, the court found that the delay in filing her complaint with police and in obtaining a medical examination indicated that she had made the story up.
It acquitted the five accused of the rape charge, saying the incident could not have taken place because "upper caste men, including a Brahmin, would not rape a woman of a lower caste". The men were convicted of minor crimes.
In early 1996, women's organisations, CBI and Rajasthan government filed an appeal in the High Court against the acquittal.
Says activist and People's Union for Civil Liberties chief in the state, Kavita Srivastava, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to get justice for Bhanwari, "It's the 10th year of that appeal and not a single hearing has taken place yet. We twice appealed for an early hearing but both were rejected."
She says the reason is the huge number of pending cases, estimated to be over a lakh, with the High Court. Meanwhile, Bhanwari continues to live in the same village, facing severe ostracisation and intimidation. The accused too stay there one of them died some time ago.
Says Srivastava, "She's living in penury. Though she has received a number of awards, Bhanwari has not received a penny from the state government. She cannot sell pots any more and has only a tiny plot of land. She is forced to survive on the Rs 500 salary she gets as a sathin every month."
So, why doesn't she leave the village? "Because she says she did nothing wrong. She also believes that the villagers will stand by her one day," says Srivastava.
Bhanwari Devi's case provoked women's organisations to file a petition in the Supreme Court, asking it to give directions regarding sexual harassment at the workplace. The apex court judgment, which came on August 13, 1997, gave the Vishaka guidelines that hold employers responsible for providing safe work environment for women.
Says Srivastava, "Bhanwari's case was a pioneering one for the anti-rape movement. It brought about a change even in the system of accountability of the police. Many women have gained from Bhanwari Devi's struggle, but sadly not her."
Raped November 27, 1973
On June 1 this year, Aruna Shanbaug will turn 58. But she'll never know that, just as she has remained oblivious to all her birthdays since November 27, 1973.
On that day, 25-year-old Aruna, then a nurse working at Mumbai's KEM hospital, was attacked by a ward boy Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement. Walmiki first choked her with a dog collar, then raped and robbed her.
The asphyxiation cut off the oxygen supply to her brain. As a result, she has become cortically blind her eyes can see but her brain does not register the images.
She was also diagnosed with brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury. She cannot speak, emote, use her limbs or control her muscles. For 33 years, she's been living a vegetative existence on a bed in KEM hospital.
Walmiki was convicted but while Aruna is serving a life sentence, he served a mere six years in jail. Journalist and writer Pinki Virani, who has written a book on 'Aruna's Story', says, "The worst part: he was not sentenced for rape because he had not committed the rape vaginally; it was anal.
The examination of Aruna, when she was found the next morning, was done with what is called the finger test ingers inserted into vagina to check virginity she still was; so that was that." At the time, Aruna was engaged to a junior doctor at the hospital.
The then hospital dean chose not to report the anal rape to the police in order to spare the couple the public disclosure. The fiance was also discouraged from being a complainant. Instead, a sub-inspector became the complainant because no one else was willing.
The judgment against the rapist noted "that the victim was menstruating and the accused had gone there with the intention to rape". But as Bhartha was not charged with rape, he was convicted only for attempt to murder and robbery.
He was sentenced to seven years, which was reduced to six because he had already served a year in lock-up.
After his release, Walmiki reportedly moved to Delhi. But Aruna has remained in a twilight zone. She needs to be fed (mashed food), turned over once in a while, cleaned
she can do nothing on her own. Says Virani, "'She does not need any medicines or even nurses. There's just an ayah." And no one else.
Aruna's family asked for financial compensation and an apartment. They were refused and that's when they abandoned her. Her fiance remained devoted to her till his marriage a few years later.
Says Virani, "Aruna was actually quite an ambitious girl. She had found a nice man, planned on a home, kids as well as a consultancy or a nursing home with her husband. Now, there's no hope of her recovery."
It was love that brought the 18-year-old Maimun and the already-married Idris Mohammed together. But what kept them apart wasn't Idris' marital status or their caste but the fact that by virtue of living in the same village Sudaka in Haryana's Nuh tehsil they were gotra bhai-behen.
Same-gotra marriages are not allowed among Hindus but this is a custom that even converts to Islam cling to.
Despite the fact that the entire village frowned on their union, the couple got married at Nizammuddin's dargah in Delhi on June 8, 1997. But her family refused to accept it and married Maimun off to another man in a hurry. On the wedding night, she was gangraped by the new husband, his brother and two friends.
Then they slit Maimun, from neck to stomach, as punishment for her marriage to Idris, and left her for dead. Maimun was rescued by another villager and, while being treated for her injuries in hospital, was reunited with Idris.
The couple approached National Commission for Women (NCW) in New Delhi after hearing that Idris' old parents were being punished for Maimun's disappearance. Syeda Hameed, member of the Planning Commission, and former NCW member, has profiled Maimun's story in her book They Hang: Twelve Women in My Portrait Gallery.
She recalls in the book, "Surprisingly, they were not complaining about the beating and torture inflicted on them by their biradari...It did not strike me till much later that women accept violence as part of their daily lives simply by virtue of being female..."
On August 14, 1997, while the country prepared for its golden jubilee Independence Day celebrations, an NCW team went to Sudaka, along with Maimun, Idris and some Haryana policemen. The couple hid in the vehicle, while the NCW team tried to persuade the villagers to accept their marriage.
Padma Seth, lawyer and then NCW member, recalls, "Suddenly, thousands of people poured in from nearby villages. They broke open the door of the vehicles and forcefully dragged out Maimun like a piece of meat." The policemen refused to go to her rescue, saying they had to consider the team's security as there were
people armed with knives waiting near the village's exit. Maimun was later found after NCW told the Gurgaon deputy commissioner that it would otherwise file a habeas corpus writ. Says Seth, "It was said that she was raped by the village pradhan after she was taken away." With the help of a court directive, Maimun was first sent to a
Nari Niketan near Karnal, and later reunited with Idris.
Hameed says, "We heard reports that Idris had gone to the Gulf for a while and then opened a shop in east Delhi. Then one day, I saw a familiar face in a newspaper Idris with his two children. That's when I came to know that Maimun had been killed by her brother.
" It was July 29, 2003 six years after her marriage to Idris that Maimun's brother killed her to save the family honour. Idris and his two children went into hiding; no one knows where they are now.
Seth says, "Men are still treating girls as property they can dispose of. Women are being sold for paltry sums like Rs 10,000 and Rs 12,000. Maimun told us her parents had sold her for
Rs 14,000. Also, Muslim converts are hanging on to Hindu customs like gotra and other superstitious beliefs."
Sayeed regrets, "When Maimun was pulled away from us in Sudaka, I felt that despite 50 years of our Independence, there were pockets of ignorance, trapped in a time warp. When she was killed, I realised that no matter what, woh mahilaon ko kabhi bakshte nahin hain (they never spare women)."
Maimun learnt that the hard way.
Shanti Mukund Hospital Case
Raped September 6, 2003
A 19-year-old nurse was on duty at east Delhi's Shanti Mukund hospital one night, taking care of a comatose patient. She awoke in the middle of the night to find a ward boy, Bhura, trying to force himself on her.
When she resisted, Bhura plunged his fingers into her eyes, gouging out the right and wounding the left. He then dragged her to an adjacent bathroom, raped her and locked her in. She lay unconscious and bled through the night.
After she was found the next day, it took the hospital two hours to take her to the casualty ward. A report of the
National Commission for Women on the rape and the treatment the nurse received noted that none of the four ophthalmologists of the hospital could be contacted at the time. The victim was taken to the gynaecology department, and then shifted to Guru Tegh Bahadur hospital after tests.
At GTB, she was examined by a second-year PG student and her senior. They merely noted the condition of the eye but did not examine it despite the serious injury. No X-ray was done, nor were any senior doctors called, even though it was a medico-legal case.
She was finally admitted to GTB hospital late at night, but despite her infected eye, kept in the general ward. Says Meenakshi Lekhi, the nurse's lawyer, "She was shunted from one hospital to another. There were lapses on the part of both."
Bhura was caught and, on May 4, 2005, sentenced to life imprisonment for sexual assault and for causing grievous hurt, and to one year for wrongfully confining a person. Just before sentencing, Bhura made an astounding proposal that he was willing to marry his victim if he was freed.
But the girl urged the court to give the severest of punishment to the convict so that "such a horrendous act is not repeated". The NCW held both hospitals culpable and liable to compensate the victim, and called for cancellation of Shanti Mukund's licence.
A case of negligence, filed by the victim against four doctors of Shanti Mukund Hospital, is currently in court. It's nearly three years but the girl, who has a temporary job at a Delhi hospital, is yet to overcome her trauma. Says Lekhi, "She's still waiting for compensation. Meanwhile, her family has spent a lot of money on her treatment.
She has undergone five to six operations and plastic surgery too, and wears a prosthesis in one eye. The other eye is still painful. Can she ever be compensated enough?"